Thursday, June 23, 2016

SEIKO Prospex Transocean SBDC039 Dive Watch - A Chic Executive Watch With Elegance Yet Capable Of Extreme Adventure, A Review (and Video)

I did not come back empty handed when I went for a short business trip to Tokyo, Japan. I went with a purpose to get my hands on any SEIKO Presage watch with a white enamel dial. Within the small window of personal time, I was able to go to my favourite watch shop, BIC Camera in the Shibuya shopping district. Unfortunately, none of the models that I want was available.

Instead I focused on the Prospex series. One line of dive watch I am interested in was the Transocean series. This is a new class created earlier this year to fulfill a certain gap not filled by any existing model under the Perspex line. This gap is especially glaring under the diver class genre.

I bet you are wondering what gap I am alluding to. Well, it's the gap between the professional diver and the professional executive. One of the common feedback which SEIKO gets from its legion of enthusiasts (I too took the opportunity to give a similar feedback) is offering a dive watch that would look equally at ease in a boardroom as it is on a diving platform on the stern of an ocean going boat.

The Prospex class has always been a tool watch but in recent years the demand has been growing from the non-diving community. Quality and brand awareness has made the SEIKO Prospex series a collectable timepiece. The reputation has grown beyond the traditional Japanese and Asian markets as the collection becomes more assessable all over the world. This achievement can also be accorded to the growth of Seiko's distribution channels. The explosion in numbers of Prospex enthusiasts (especially after 2014 when SEIKO decided to globalise the Prospex segment which was until that moment was a JDM exclusive offering from SEIKO) has introduced a number of challenges to the brand.

The diver watch series has been a firm favourite of the fans, old and new. However, the new demands are no longer about making it dive deeper or incorporate more functionality into the watch. Instead, it's about introducing classier options, such as precious or exotic materials, shiner polishing and better finishing. All this so that new offerings would. It only be practical as tool watches but also sophisticated dress watches.

I have to tip my hat to SEIKO on how they went about making those dreams come true. By incorporating some of their in-house technologies such as ceramic manufacturing, Dia Shield protective coating as well their legendary Zarastu polishing technique, they are able to come out a watch that is special enough to be completely at eased in both extreme realms; for a professional diver and for a sophisticated executive. The Transocean series has arrived.

Here I would like to quickly comment on a number of feedbacks written about this new series when it was launched earlier this year. I personally believe the unflattering remarks about the pricing and the design of the new series were made due to the lack of understanding the reason behind the design philosophy of Transocean. Understanding the original aim of the SEIKO designers is the key to appreciating this watch. Keeping in mind what I have alluded earlier about the genesis of the design requirements, you should be looking at this watch from this perspective.

The Seiko Sumos, Monsters, Marinemasters did not have the expected level of quality that one would expect of an executive watch. Those watches were made purely as tools for professional blue-collar working men and women. It is the reputation of these watches that created the strong following. However, many have requested that slight alterations be added to the overall design to also cater for the changing demographics of owners (and potential owners). What better way to introduce the brand to this new set of owners via a new line, the Transocean.

The Transocean is positioned as a wristwatch for both business and sports activities. It is supposed to be a design which blurs two distinct environments as one. That makes the introduction of the 'Dia Shield', sapphire crystal and ceramic bezel even more relevant.

I got the SBDC039 from an AD in Tokyo. The Bic Camera shop in Shibuya district listed the price at YEN104,000 versus the MSRP price of YEN130,000. As a visitor, I was able to get an additional discount of 5% which brings down the price further to YEN98,800.

The watch is 45 mm wide and 13.8 mm thick. The dial is protected by sapphire crystal while the case-back is a solid screw down. The screw down crown in located at the 4 o'clock position. The casing and bracelet is made out of 316L stainless steel. It is only the bezel and the top part of the crown is made out of black ceramic.

The dial has a black textured surface. There are five lines of text. Above the centreline is the brand name all on its own. Then comes the Prospex logo, the type of caliber, the watch genre, its water rating and finally (in very small print) the manufacturing reference in code. Meanwhile, the date function is located in a small aperture between 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock position. The date aperture has a black background which helps minimise any distractions.

This watch follows the classic three-hand design operating from a central pin on the centre of the dial. To my knowledge, the design of the hands is new. The hour hand has a thick arrowhead and a short thinner stem. Seiko made these two sections appear separate with borders segregating them. Within the borders, Seiko’s proprietary LumiBrite paint was added. The minute hand is a long Scottish broad sword design with LumiBrite paint added within a slim border around it. Finally, the second hand that looks like a slender arrow. Only the arrowhead is with luminous paint. Interestingly, the overhang of the hand is flared out slightly like the fletching of a real arrow.

There are two timing scales on the dial. The outer scale is the minute markers located on the sloping chapter ring. The inner scale is the hour markers which are also given the LumiBrite treatment. Seiko made a good call in putting the date complication in its own aperture that did not upset any of the painted markers. I like symmetry and the setup of the dial is close to perfect in my opinion (what would make it even perfect? Perhaps placing the date aperture on a North-South alignment instead).

For the very first time, Seiko has decided to dispense from using its proprietary Hardlex glass material for the dial cover on a Prospex series under this price point. Sapphire crystal is usually used by Seiko for high-end watches and very seldom for tool watches due to the expected vigorous use of it in extreme environments. This has been one of the many requests fans sent to Seiko. In reality, Hardlex is better suited for extreme watches as it has similar quality to sapphire yet much cheaper to replace if required. Nevertheless, using sapphire would make it more comparable (materially) to Swiss watches in the same genus. In this instance, styling takes precedent instead of practicality. However, rest assured Seiko is not falling into the fashion trap. Instead of incorporating the latest ‘fashion’ in all its existing Prospex lines, Seiko decided to make a new line just for the fashion conscious. The flat sapphire crystal on the Transocean is AR coated.

Another innovation is the use of ceramics. Unidirectional with 120-click gradation, the bezel is a one piece black ceramic and is held in place by small screws at 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock positions. The flat surface of the bezel has a minute and hour scale marked by laser with a combination of markers and Arabic numberings. The bezel is slightly taller which helps increase the level of protection for the sapphire crystal from a glancing impact to the side. The edge of the bezel has an interrupted gear-like design which allows easy gripping. The ceramic has a different reflective index compared to the dial surface and this makes an interesting dance of colours depending on light-conditions.

The lug-ends are two separate pieces connected to the watch casing via screws. It is designed to be taller than the bezel and offers the first line of defense in protecting the bezel. Its trapezoidal surfaces have that ‘Transformer’ robot kind of feel to it. Concept wise, it is more like the Seiko Monster series. The lugs are also designed based on central lug concept instead of a pair of corner lugs. This makes it difficult to find strap replacements.

The bracelet has the same design concept as the lug ends with flat surfaces and H-type links. The links are connected by friction pins. Resizing to a good fit is easy with the additional of micro-adjustment pin holes on the clasp. The bracelet starts at 23 mm near the lugs and tapers down to 20 mm at the clasp.

The clasp has a double-lock access with push button release. Incorporated with the clasp is a simple diver’s extension with extends the length to an additional ¾ inches. For a watch that is supposed to cater for the higher-end market, I would have expected Seiko to incorporate a ratcheting diver’s extension instead. Meanwhile, the bridge connecting the two halves of the bracelet is machined instead of stamped. This gives it a very exclusive feel to the bracelet.

The unique lug design minimized potential overhang on smaller wrists. The curved downward alignment of the lugs causes the casing to fit snugly on wrist despite the lug-to-lug size of approximately 52 mm. Moreover, the underside of the watch casing is also curved like a bowl which facilitates comfort.

The polishing on the casing as well as bracelet using the Zarastu technique is first class. Coupled with the Dia Shield protective coating keeps the watch looking pristine and shining for a long time.

The solid case-back design has the hallmark of typical Prospex tool watch. The centre is decorated with the famous Tsunami logo synonymous with Seiko’s dive watches while the sides are stamped with important information about the watch. Underneath this case-back it the 6R15 engine that powers the watch.

The 6R15 engine is a 23 jewel caliber operating at 3 Hertz or 21,600 BPH. It has a date module attached and has a power reserve of approximately 50 hours with the use of the Spron 510 mainsprings. It is an automatic movement with bidirectional winding. The movement also has a Diashock system, a shock resistance devise, unique to Seiko. This caliber was introduced in 2006 and has hand winding and hacking capabilities.

The watch is approximately 205 grams and has a water rating of 200 meters.

The Wearing Experience

The Transocean is more akin to the Monster series by virtue of the special bezel protection provided by the lugs. Due to the shape of the watch casing, the watch perched better on wrists despite it 45 mm wide size.If you like to know more about the Seiko Monster SKX779 that I own, please visit the review here: Seiko SKX779K1 200m Black Monster

You can get the bracelet to be resized correctly to your wrist with the help of the many micro-adjustment points located at the clasp. This is important as the best way (in my opinion) to wear this watch to have it fit nicely to your wrist. A close fitting wear makes it more elegant.

As expected, the multi-faceted design on the lug ends gives it that sophistication that exudes stylish fashion. The special Zarastu polishing on the stainless steel portion of the watch coupled with the ceramic bezel generates a myriad of colour combinations during different lighting conditions due to the different reflective nature of the various materials.

The watch is comfortable to wear. It is definitely in its element with formal wear. It does not snag on cuffs and quality of the bracelet as well as the underside of the watch casing is designed and manufactured to a much better ergonomics and quality compared to the more typical Prospex tool watches.

Below is a short video of the watch on my wrist.

Overall Impression

I can definitely see the gap that the Transocean is trying to bridge. This niche is subtle yet critical enough for Seiko to make a decision to create a new line for it.

It is interesting to note that all the models under this series, the SBDC037, SBDC039, SBDC041, SBDC043 and the SBDC045 comes standard with bracelets. There are no models that come with strap (leather, rubber, silicone or canvas) option. This fact alone explains a lot about Seiko’s worldview on style and fashion.

Leather is one of the more common type of material used for dress watches. In recent years, the use of carbon fiber is becoming the material of choice for dress watches. Unfortunately, for a dive watch, options are limited. From Seiko’s perspective, a bracelet is still the best option. However, enhancements would have to be made to the bracelet to be able to pass the dress watch test; hence the use of the Zarastu polishing technique on the Transocean. This method is generally used for Seiko’s highest-end watches such as Grand Seikos and Credors. Coupled with a protective layering of Dia Shield treatment, the surface of the stainless steel looks gleaming and well suited as an ‘executive’ watch (as defined by Seiko). The use of ceramic for the bezel enhances the exoticness of the Transocean.

As a final gesture to make the watch definitely unique, a central lug-type system is used that allows Seiko to incorporate special shapes to an otherwise typical Prospex dive watch. Quite a number of people have commented negatively on this saying such a design robs them from the choice of replacing the bracelet with straps of their own desire. For me, I like stock and this inability to easily change straps is not an issue to me.

I do however would like to suggest a few design changes that I believe will enhance its attractiveness further. These are as follows:

The first is the location of the screw-down crown. Instead of the 4 o’clock position, putting it at 3 o’clock like typical watches or maybe at 12 o’clock (similar to the Seiko 5 50th Anniversary SSA171J1 "Unicorn") or even at 6 o’clock would create a nice general symmetry to the watch. Since the lugs are unique anyway, designing the crown either at the head or tail end of the watch would not defeat the original design specifications on the lugs – it will still be unique.

The second is the location of the date window. Relocating it to the 6 o’clock position is a better position for it, again from a symmetrical point of view. Coupled with the relocated crown, all the functionality of the watch would be on a North-South alignment.

The third is replacing the solid case-back with a display case-back. The ability to view the movement is one of the desirable options for dress or executive watches. With current technology, it is definitely easy to design and manufacture a display case-back capable of withstanding a water pressure of 200 meters. If Seiko could also decorate the movement, the visual extravaganza is complete.

Overall, I am very satisfied with the Transocean. Seiko was able to create a line of tool watches that has the standard to compete with other dress or executive watches.

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